Did you know that the biological clock is a small part of the brain?

biological clock

In April, during the Night Worker’s Month and especially during the Nacht van de Arbeid [Labour Night] (30 April – 1 May), Déhora is raising awareness about the mental, physical and social pressure involved in nightwork, in partnership with the Time Design Foundation. All too often this pressure goes underestimated. This article provides the night workers among us with more information about the so-called ‘biological clock’ and the disruption thereof.

The biological clock

The biological clock is part of the brain, making up a mere one third of a cubic millimetre worth. So, it’s super small, but still has a seriously big impact. Not just people, but animals have a biological clock too. But what is the biological clock exactly? It’s the internal clock that tells us when it’s time to sleep, wake up, or eat. The clock is controlled by the hypothalamus, the control centre of the brain, located behind the eyes. The hypothalamus regulates this by releasing hormones and controlling blood pressure and body temperature. This internal clock works differently for everyone. Among others, the differences determine whether someone is a morning person or a night owl. That is to say, morning people and night owls have divergent sleep-wake rhythms (also known as circadian rhythms).

Disruptions of the internal clock

The rhythm of the internal clock can also be thrown off balance. For example, this can be a result from regularly going to bed too late. This especially happens to people working shifts or those who have just been on a long journey (jet lag). However, there’s also no doubt that your internal clock can be disrupted by the transition between summer and winter time (daylight saving time). It often takes a few days before you feel back to your old self again. If the sleep-wake rhythm is disrupted it becomes harder to wake up, stay awake, fall asleep or stay asleep at a certain time within the 24-hour cycle.

Signs that the biological clock has been upset are:

  • headache, irritability, mood swings;
  • a disrupted sleep-wake rhythm;
  • trouble concentrating;
  • changes in eating habits;
  • changes in bowel movements, constipation or diarrhoea;
  • lack of energy;
  • headache, irritability, mood swings.

Occasionally it may take a few days for the biological clock to adapt to local conditions. Staying up a bit longer, for that matter, creates less of a disturbance than waking up a little earlier. That’s why it’s also important to alternate according to the morning-evening-night shift schedule as much as possible and not the other way around for successive shifts.

Do you have any questions or would you like to know more? Please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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